“Who?” Jason asked as he mopped off his face with a towel. The kilted drummer sweat more than anyone else he knew. He worked harder too. Greer was fit, he had to be in this business, but he wasn’t Jason Keefer fit. Every practice, sound check and show was a full workout for the man.
Greer finished off his bottle of water and grabbed another. They only had another minute before having to get back on stage. “University girl.”
“Holy shit! Here. Like, right now?” His best friend and drummer of Rusted and Reckless looked out the side of the stage, actually expecting to see her in the horde of thousands of people with no knowledge of what she looked like. Then again, neither did he. “Why is she not backstage right now? I need to meet this girl.”
That was the problem, wasn’t it? Greer was bassist of a country band that had finally hit it big. They were double platinum country artists halfway through their first headlining tour across the country. His passion was all for music but he also loved to learn. Had he not gotten into music, he would have been an academic type collecting degrees like they were Pokémon cards. It’s why he was enrolled online for an English degree right now. Greer had three bachelors degrees and two masters that he would probably never use. That didn’t bother him at all. It was the process that he loved. The start of a new semester was like Christmas. None of the guys understood it but they didn’t rag on him about it either. They all had their obsessions and this was his.
He met Aveline in a few of his classes. Last year they had enrolled in almost all the same courses. Her face just kept popping up in class lists and discussions. Having noticed the same thing, she had emailed him asking if he was stalking her. Greer was done for right then and there.
They were both from North Carolina but she was from the coast while he considered the mountains his home. She was sweet and intelligent, always proofing papers for him and yelling at him for his comma misplacements. (She was for the oxford comma and he was against.) They got into arguments that could last days over punctuation. Greer called her all the time, her voice was like candy, all sweet and innocent. He enjoyed the hell out of it, especially when she laughed. Aveline was a known giggler and he felt their conversation was not over until he heard it at least once.
He’d been crushing on this girl for months but had never told her the truth about him. He never told anyone in his classes who he was and what he really did. He was there to learn, not to get special treatment and fangirled on. It’s why he took online classes and not classes at the university campus. Well, that and his tour schedule.
Greer had talked to Aveline that afternoon and when she said she was going to the Rusted and Reckless concert, he stammered. It had been his chance to tell her, his chance to meet her and he chickened out. Greer told her to enjoy herself and hung up like the pussy he was.
“I didn’t tell her.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “Of course you didn’t, buddy.” Jason, Rory and Nix were the man sluts of the group. They enjoyed the groupies that hung around while Greer was his socially awkward self. He lost all lust for a woman when she could barely even converse without trying to touch him. Brains were what attracted Greer, brains and wit. Sawyer, their guitarist and stand in singer, wasn’t into groupies like the others either. He was a romantic and would fall too hard and fast for a woman. He learned the hard way that their groupies would say anything to get into bed with him and that he couldn’t believe a word of it.
Their break over, Greer and Jason stepped back onto the stage, the lights like hundreds of small suns blaring down on them. He loved it, loved the crowd singing and dancing along with them. Loved the oppressive heat from the lights and the thumping of the amps. He loved his callused fingers and aching feet. Greer truly loved his life. He worked hard for that spot on the stage. They all had.
Sawyer stepped up to the mic and adjusted his guitar. He looked over his shoulder first at Greer and then back to Jason. Rory clapped him on the back as he walked passed to his corner of the stage across from Greer. They were adjusting to this new dynamic between them. Three months before their singer and Sawyer’s brother, Phoenix, had disappeared. He was a heroin addict and as much as they wanted to believe he was in rehab somewhere, odds were he was shooting up in a dingy hotel room in a nameless city. Nix’s disappearance had rocked them all but none more that Sawyer. They wanted to cancel the tour but their contract wouldn’t allow that. So here they were, making due.
Sawyer had stepped up to sing but he wouldn’t give up the guitar. They called in favors from other bands, borrowed players from the opening band when needed, but it was just a temporary fix. Soon they were going to have to make some tough decisions. Things that he really didn’t need to be thinking about right now.
“Ya’ll got your refills?” Sawyer asked the crowd. The stadium erupted. Greer couldn’t help keep the smile off his face. Country fans were the best. They knew how to drink, have fun and dance their hearts out.
“Now, I think it’s time for-“
“Any of you English majors out there?” Jason interrupted from behind his drum kit.
Both Greer and Sawyer looked back at the drum kit where Jason was lazily spinning a drumstick between his fingers. He had a devious smile that Greer knew well, too well. That smile had gotten him in so much trouble over the years.
“Any online English majors from Penn State University?”
Aveline fluffed her limp hair. It had rained while they were waiting in the queue to enter the concert. Rob, her cousin and gay man extraordinaire, bought the tickets for her birthday and she was determined to have a good time, even if she looked like an air dried, drowned rat. This was her first night out in almost nine months. If she wasn’t working one of her two jobs, Aveline was taking care of her mother or studying. She’d sacrificed her social life for real life. It wasn’t like she had a choice in the matter. Her mother’s health was priority number one, after the car crash two years prior left her brain damaged. Aveline also had to earn an income to pay for the medical bills that incurred a never ending stream of threats from collection agencies. Tonight was probably the only night that she would be free to be a twenty-four-year old.
Aveline tried to salvage what she could of her makeup in the crowded bathroom mirror. She smudged her finger under her eyes catching some of the eyeliner and mascara that had run in the rain. There was not much helping the rest of her. Then again, everyone looked like hell but no one else seemed to care.
She left the bathroom and Rob immediately grabbed he arm and started pulling her the opposite direction of their seats.
“They are looking for you!”
“Who?” she asked as she stumbled behind him. He was a tall lanky man of thirty and her best friend. Rob helped take care of her mother alongside the nurse that came daily. It wasn’t an easy road she traveled but she had company and that made it manageable. Rob was a huge country music fan and had gotten her into it a few years ago. Aveline enjoyed the easy going melodies and lyrics that spoke to her. He had introduced her to the genre via Rusted and Reckless. They crossed the line between country and rock and it was hard to distinguish what genre they were. They were her gateway band into the world of country and held a special place in her heart.
“The band!” he yelled in a laugh.
“What?” He wasn’t making any sense. She tried to pull her arm free but his grip was strong. He steered her towards a security guard. “Rob, what do you mean the band is looking for me? Rob?”
She’s never seen a grin so big on his face. “They asked if anyone went to Penn State and was an English major. That’s you sweetie.”
“Me and a ton of other people.”
Rob tugged her forward again and right into the security guard’s personal space bubble. “This is the girl,” he said confidently. “This is the one the band is looking for.”
The guard didn’t even give them a glance. “Move along.”
He was beginning to worry her. Aveline wasn’t sure what had gotten into her cousin. “Let’s just go. Are you feeling ok? Maybe we should just leave.”
They were close enough to the stage at this point that she could hear the band talking. The second set was about to start. If they wanted to make it back to their seats they needed to leave.
“Jason! Knock it off and let’s get back to giving these people the music they came to hear.” The crowd laughed at the bassist’s obvious discomfort but that wasn’t what stopped her. Aveline turned toward the stage and gaped. She knew that voice, had talked to it just a few hours earlier.
Rob jostled her. “See! She is the girl!”
Security looked at her long and hard and then pulled out his phone. A moment later he asked, “Are you Aveline Michaels?”
“Yes,” she answered dumbfounded as Rob jumped around like a four year old going to Disney World. How the hell did he know her name? “What’s going on?”
“This way.” He waved them through the barrier and took them backstage. It was a flurry of activity back there and no one looked twice at them. Aveline just kept moving forward. This, whatever this was, moved much too quickly for her brain to process.
“What is going on?” she asked Rob again who was pushing her faster, with a hand on her lower back.
“I told you. The band is looking for you. Let me see you.” He pulled her to a stop and turned her. After a quick once over he gave her the okay. “You look sexy hot. Less nerd and more sex panther. He’d going to drool all over you.”
Doubtful. Very doubtful.
Aveline had just seen her reflection and sexy hot was nowhere to be seen in that mirror. Rob turned her again and they continued their path through the maze of the stadium.
“Greer, I’ve got some good news for you,” Sawyer said on stage.
“Oh fuck,” the familiar voice groaned and the crowd laughed.
Sawyer came into view first, he had his arm draped over top of Greer’s shoulders. “She’s on her way up to the stage. You look a bit nervous.”
“I’m going to kill you both.”
Sawyer laughed and slapped the brim of Greer’s hat down. He caught Aveline and Rob standing on the wings. The security guard had left them at some point to return to his post. Rob was vibrating beside her. He was a huge fan of the band and she knew he was beyond excited to be this close to them.
“There she is!” Sawyer yelled excitedly and ran over to her.
Rob, being the helpful cousin he was, pushed her forward onto the stage, but Sawyer was there to steady her. “Aveline, how are you darlin’?” He put his arm over her shoulders like he had done with Greer. She tried to look over at him but Sawyer angled her away and toward the audience.
“I’m good.” She tried not to look at the people. Aveline knew how big the stadium was because just a minute earlier she had been one of them.
She decided to look at the man talking to her, which was almost worse. Sawyer was every girl’s country dream. Soft t-shirt, worn jeans that actually had dirt on them, boots that were well broken in. Sawyer’s soft blonde hair was no nonsense and hung where it dried. He hid his eyes behind a pair of dark aviator glasses but his smile was devastating enough that she didn’t need to add his eyes to the mix. Sawyer was already the sexiest man she had ever touched.
“Um…yeah. I’ll be better once I know what’s going on.”
“Do you go to Penn State University?”
Easy question, easy answer. “Yes.”
“And are you an English major?”
“Yes. Well, literature actually.”
Sawyer turned his head away from her to where Greer was standing. “Is this her?”
“Sounds like her.” As annoyed as he had sounded earlier, there was a smile in his voice now. Aveline stood on her tip toes to look over Sawyer’s shoulder and saw Greer for the first time up close. There was no way that was the literature major who she accused of stalking her. Both his arms were covered in tattoos, monochromatic designs wove like ivy down his arms. His fiery orange bass hung off his shoulder and she couldn’t help but think about the body he was hiding behind it. Like Sawyer, Greer wore a t-shirt but no cowboy boots for him. He had on sandals and looked like he just woke up, put on a well-worn favorite baseball hat and walked on stage. She knew Greer to be twenty-seven but he had a face that would get him carded at the liquor stores for at least another ten years.
“Holy shit,” Aveline cursed softly. The crowd began to laugh but she didn’t hear them. All she could do was look at Greer. Was this really her crush? The man who entertained her to no end?
“We are going to continue on with the show so why don’t you and your…” Sawyer looked to the wing where Rob was all but drooling with jealousy. “Uh oh…someone has a boyfriend.” The low moaning “Ohhhhhh” came from the crowd.
Aveline swallowed and shook her head. She looked between Sawyer and Greer trying to explain. “No…he’s not…” but the mic wasn’t on her. No one could hear that Rob was her cousin, her very gay cousin. Sawyer walked her off stage but Aveline kept trying to look at Greer and explain. He wouldn’t look at her. Wouldn’t even glance in her direction.
“Sawyer…it’s not…we’re not…” She grabbed his hand before he could leave.
“It’s alright darlin’,” he said in his slow draw that calmed her immediately. “Stay here. We’ll hang after the show.” Aveline nodded and dropped the hand she had on his arm.
“Just hang here. No place better to watch a concert than backstage.”
“Sawwwyeeer!” Rory’s sing song voice sounded from the stage.
He left and flicked off the guitarist as he walked back on stage. “We ready to get this party back on track?”
Aveline and Rob did have the best seat in the house. It was a truly amazing experience. The blinding lights, the heart pumping sound and the incredible view was something she would never forget. Unfortunately, she didn’t enjoy one moment of it. All she could do was watch Greer avoid her from the other side of the stage and play.
Her heart thudded when the final notes were played and the goodbyes were made. Aveline ran her fingers through her knotty head of hair. First time meeting Greer and she looked like she just woke up with a bad case of bed head. Figures. Even her clothes were still wet from the earlier rain. Sexy hot, Rob had called her. Right, because the squishing of water in her soaked boots and the blister on her heel that made her limp was sooo hot. The circumstances could not be worse.
Oh wait, he also thought that Rob was her boyfriend.
So yeah, it could be worse.
It was worse.
Aveline had been in more classes than she could count with Greer. It was on their second semester together that she had emailed him. It had started out as a friendly “Hello, I really admired your short story,” but turned into “Are you stalking me?” She had no idea why she asked that but he had found it funny. They had hit it off. She knew she could always ask him for creative advice, since he was full of it and he could always come to her for technical help. He joked that Aveline was an honorary member of the Grammar Police. Last Christmas, Greer had gotten her a badge and everything.
Never once in her time talking to Greer had he let on that he was anything more than a guy from Canton, North Carolina. He might have mentioned playing some instrument at some point but very casually. This was so not casual. This was mega.
The guys of Rusted and Reckless were smiling as they walked off stage. It had been a good show, a great show. Even without Nix, the singer, it had been amazing. Greer looked up and saw her still waiting in the spot where Sawyer had left her. She lifted her hand and gave a hesitant wave like a complete idiot.
Why the hell was she waving?
Why was she still waving?
Rob seemed to sense her distress and pushed her hand down. Greer looked to where Rob’s hand laid on her skin and scowled. Shit. She was messing this all up.
Jason stepped around Greer who had slowed his pace and came over to them. “Hello, University Girl,” he stated with a smile. “May I escort you two to the green room?”
Aveline looked around his sweaty broad shoulders to where Greer had just been but he was gone. Aveline sighed. This really wasn’t how she had planned their first meet and greet. Jason moved in her way again so all she saw were the lines of his very defined chest. Slowly, because she wanted to remember this man as he was before her now for those night she needed a little imagination, she lifted her eyes up from his kilt to his abs, to his pecks, to the sweat beading on his shoulders and neck, and finally up to a face that knew and enjoyed the visual lick she had just given his body.
“Sure.” She cleared her throat. “I’m Aveline, by the way, and this is Rob, my cousin.”
Jason’s grin spread wide across his face. “Cousin. That is good to know. Very good. Nice to meet both of you.”
With a hand on her lower back he steered them through the maze backstage to a room marked Rusted and Reckless. “Why don’t you guys head in there and make yourselves comfortable. I’m going to shower and then I’ll be back to entertain and amaze. The other guys should be around in a few minutes.”
“Ok,” Aveline said with nerves jittering. She’d finally meet Greer. How often had she dreamt of this moment? How many times had she been talking to him and could picture just how this meeting would go? Jason swung open the door and ushered them inside.
It was like no after party she ever expected, mainly because there was no one there save a few radio people milling about. Weren’t these things supposed to be all sex, drugs and alcohol? Rob looked just as bewildered beside her. Her last birthday party had more entertainment than this, and she had spent it alone with a tub of ice cream and a new subscription to Netflix.
“So Greer McQueen is actually your Greer from school?” Rob asked putting his back to the small group of people.
Aveline nodded. “I guess so.”
“That about sums it up.”